Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Agnès Varda's back, with JR in tow and maybe her most delightful doc yet: FACES PLACES

She is not only one of France's most sublime national treasures, but that of cinema, too, and her worth simply grows from film to film. Agnès Varda's latest -- and perhaps her last (she turns 90 next May, and both her general strength and eyesight seem to be slowly failing) -- turns out to be a lovely collaboration with a photographer and muralist who goes by the name of JR. (His moniker is not a nod to Dallas, I am guessing).

The collaboration turns out to be a near-perfect one, with the pair complementing and setting each other off in the most wonderful of ways. He (shown at left) is tall; she's short. She (shown below) is old; he's young. He is hugely private, never removing his dark glasses, while she could hardly be more transparent. And they're both so full of talent and creative juice that spending 90 minutes with them will seem as though you've died and gone directly to art/cinema/ photography/mural
heaven. Not to mention all the lovely people and animals you'll meet along the way. I don't think you will even need to have viewed other Varda pix to fully appreciate this one, for it bubbles along with such life, energy and good will that it rather dares you not to immediately fall in love with it, its creators and all the folk you meet within. (If you're new to Varda, I would suggest Cleo from 5 to 7 and The Gleaners and I for starters.) The more you've already seen of her films, however, the more you will understand and appreciate why this one seems maybe the culmination of all she has accomplished.

How does she do it, one wonders? By "it," I mean the ease by which she manages to connect all these people and the "art" they contribute here by simply allowing themselves to be filmed and photographed -- JR's amazing enlargements of the photos then being glued to their local buildings -- as well as by speaking with the filmmakers and sharing bits of their lives. All this coalesces into something simple and very pleasurable yet also somehow rich and profoundly humane.

As one of the interviewees mentions en route, "Art is supposed to surprise us, right?" Absolutely. Hence the surprise and delight we take in meeting everyone from the woman, above, who refuses to move out of her "condemned" row of old houses formerly occupied by French miners (she was a miner's wife)

to the flock of goats we meet, along with the folk who raise them. Some goats no longer have horns; the how and why of this is explored quite interestingly, with no judgment made but nonetheless giving us the information we need to make our own.

Then there are the wives of the dockworkers whom we meet and get to know just a bit, before their images (at left) are attached to the huge containers that the workers must fill and empty. We go from towns to countryside to the Louvre (through which JR pushes Varda in her wheelchair, as an homage to Godard's running-through-the-Louvre scene in Bande à part.

She still rather worships Godard (foolishly, in my estimation, for she is twice the filmmaker that this over-rated, misogynistic pretension-artist usually is). Varda and JR go to Godard's "new house" for breakfast, and his response should not surprise anyone who follows the man's films.

Among some genuinely precious moments here are a look at a town's "bell ringer," the worker in a salt factory who tries to keep the place "accident-free," and the dear old (and now deceased) friend of Varda, Guy Bourdin, whom we see as a young man who was Varda's model. How Bourdin's youth becomes very briefly immortalized, below, is wonderful, strange and sad.

The final gift that these filmmakers offer each other at film's end is so take-your-breath-away perfect that Faces Places (Visages, villages in the original French) immediately becomes a movie that, like all of Varda's work, you'll want and need to view again.

From Cohen Media Group and running just 90 minutes, opens theatrically this Friday, October 6, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and on October 13 in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 and Royal theaters. Elsewhere. Yes, nationwide, in limited release, but I have not found a link to the list of theaters, as yet....

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